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New Arista switches use Barefoot Tofino programmable chip

Arista has launched its first switches with the Barefoot Tofino programmable chip. The latest hardware is designed to replace some network appliances and routers.

Arista has launched a family of switches that companies can program to perform tasks typically handled by network appliances and routers. The company claims the consolidation capabilities of the new 7170 series reduces costs and network complexity.

The programmability of the 7170 family stems from the Barefoot Networks Tofino packet processor found in the hardware. Engineers program the silicon using P4, an open source language.

Barefoot markets Tofino as an alternative to fixed-function application-specific integrated circuits. Large enterprises, cloud and communication service providers are typical users of the high-speed Barefoot Tofino chip, which processes packets at 6.5 Tbps.

Arista, which uses Broadcom and Cavium packet processors in other switches, wants to broaden the potential customer base for the Barefoot Tofino chip by coupling it with the vendor's EOS network operating system for leaf-spine architectures. To make programming on Barefoot Tofino silicon easier, Arista provides packaged profiles that contain data plane and control plane features for specific applications. Network managers can customize the patterns using P4 and deploy them on EOS.

"We'll have to see what sort of benefits customers derive from using the [7170] technology in real-world production environments," said Brad Casemore, an analyst at IDC. "In theory, it certainly has the potential to handle some tasks typically addressed by routers and middleboxes." 

Arista application profiles

Examples of the applications defined in the Arista profiles include network overlays and virtualization to offload network functions, such as traffic segmentation or tunnel encapsulation from virtual servers.

Other profiles provide network and application telemetry for flow-level visibility, configurable thresholds and alarms, timestamping and end-to-end latency. Arista also offers patterns supporting some firewall functionality and large-scale network address translation. NAT is a way to manage multiple IP addresses by giving them a solitary public IP address. The methodology improves security and decreases the number of IP addresses an organization needs.

"How readily those profiles are embraced and productively employed could determine the extent to which the 7170 successfully addresses the use cases Arista has identified," Casemore said.

The 7170 series has two models. The first is a 1RU chassis that supports 32, 64 or 128 ports at 40/100 GbE, 50 GbE and 10/20 GbE, respectively. The second is a 2RU system that supports 64, 128 or 256 interfaces at 40/100 GbE, 50 GbE and 10/25 GbE, respectively. The hardware processes up to 12.8 terabits per second.

Base pricing for a 64-port system is $1,200 per port.

In March, Arista introduced two 25/100 GbE switches for cloud providers, tier-one and tier-two service providers, high-tech companies and financial institutions ready to replace 40/100 GbE switches with more powerful systems.

Arista is targeting the two switches -- the 7050X3 and the 7260X3 -- at different use cases. The former is an enterprise or carrier top-of-rack switch, while the 7260X3 is for leaf-spine data center networks used in large cloud environments.

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